Despite their growing popularity, I’ve never been much of a fan of Social Media Releases (SMRs). In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, a SMR is the new-age cousin of the Media Release (MR), a traditional communication tool whose purpose is to draw media attention to information that (theoretically) has value for target audiences.

Some of my colleagues were surprised to learn that I’ve discouraged organizations from using a SMR as part of their communication plan. So, I connected with Dave Hicks, Director of Sales for Canadian News Wire (one of a handful of popular Canadian companies that exist to help distribute MRs to the media) to talk about their relatively young SMR service. Just talking to Dave helped me realize what it is about SMRs that caused me to stay away from them — it’s not the communication vehicle itself, it’s the execution of the campaign on it. I’ve avoided using this channel because it’s being misused in a way that I feel devalues it.

Many organizations are using SMRs in a way that makes their message unappealing for both the mainstream media and social media audiences. Which means organizations that religiously look at ROI on all of their communication campaigns are putting out more I with no way of recognizing any R.

It seems to me there are some basic misunderstandings about SMRs so I thought I’d share five harsh thoughts for organizations thinking of using SMRs as part of their communication plan.

1) Social media audiences are NOT traditional audiences

Social media audiences don’t care how pleased an organization is about itself, its products or  events, or how the announcement affects the organization. If your announcement has no value or relevance to the social media audience, your SMR will have no value to your organization. And don’t forget that media organizations are looking for your wire copy, not your SMR.

2) Think engaging content NOT message delivery

The popularity of social media has grown out of the desire of people to engage with others. Tools have been created to facilitate participation and content redistribution. Messages intended for consuming-audiences and content intended for participating-audiences are very different and require different approaches and (in many cases) different creative. This also means changing the voice that engages the audience.

3) More value, less branding

In one particular SMR Dave and I looked at, the organization front loaded a 110-second video with 17 seconds of visual branding. That means from the moment the video began it seemingly took forever before the organization even started talking to its audience. In all, branding accounted for 20% of the video. Put another way, the organization stole 20% of its audience’s time. If it weren’t for the fact that Dave and I were evaluating the video, I would have given up before the 10 second mark.

4) A SMR doesn’t put your organization in the centre of social media

Organizations that haven’t embraced social media as part of their ongoing engagement with the public do not magically become social media organizations through their SMR. In fact, a SMR should augment a larger social media effort, not act in its place. At the very least, the SMR should be integrated with the campaign, not just be another channel for it. If the public doesn’t know about or can’t find your SMR, it serves as nothing more than an isolated outpost on the Internet.

5) Invest people NOT only money

One thing in common among all SMRs Dave and I looked at was the absence of the organization that released it. While this ties into number 4, what I’m really referring to here is the participation of the organization. Standing up a SMR and merely monitoring what’s being said without becoming active in the dialog makes the conversation about you, not with you. People can talk about you anywhere. If you’re going to invite the public to a gathering place, be a good host and participate. Assigning the right people to engage with others and respond to their comments, compliments and concerns, and act as a connector between the organization and its public is where organizations will recognize the value of their SMR.

Photo: Devin Castle Outpost posted to Flickr by xlibber.